Diehard fans of Ghost in the Shell, in its original Japanese manga form or its feature-length anime and follow-ups, will have their own opinions of this slick Hollywood adaptation. Hormonal boys and young men will be rewarded early on with lingering views of a seemingly-naked Scarlett Johansson. Never mind that her body isn’t real (in the context of the story) or that she’s actually wearing a skin-tight body suit.
As it turns out, nearly everything about this movie is surface-thin. Johansson plays Major, a cybernetic character who is supposedly the first of her kind: a human brain and soul (or “ghost”) melded onto a robotic body by sympathetic scientist Juliette Binoche. Major works for Section 9, an elite crime-fighting force in a city of the future, and is highly valued by her boss. But the manufacturer responsible for creating this robotic/human hybrid has an agenda of his own and doesn’t intend a government agency to stand in his way.
Johansson is well-cast as Major, and not just because of her physicality. She conveys the angst her character suffers from memory blips of her human past…snippets of how she was separated from her parents and nearly drowned. Her costars make solid impressions, as well, including her reliable teammate Pilou Asbaek and a nefarious hacker played by Michael Carmen Pitt.
Nothing is quite as it seems in this future world, an overwhelming cityscape where skyscrapers are dominated by animated advertising holograms. But with each incident and sidebar we find echoes of all-too-familiar stories, not just from the world of science-fiction. From the machinations of a corporate villain to the surrender of a scientist to pressures from a power-hungry funder, Ghost in the Shell is undone by shopworn storytelling tropes.
I don’t mean to be dismissive of a film that shows so much obvious effort and visual imagination, but after a while I got bored. All that razzle-dazzle onscreen, orchestrated by director Rupert Sanders and a huge team of collaborators, can’t compensate for an utterly predictable story. Johansson’s presence and the elaborate production design may be enough for some viewers but I’m afraid it left me cold.